The History of Honor Flight
How Honor Flight Network Took Off
The inaugural Honor Flight took place in May of 2005. Six small airplanes flew from Springfield, Ohio taking twelve World War II veterans on a journey to visit their memorial in Washington, D.C. In August of 2005, an ever-expanding waiting list of veterans led the transition to commercial airline carriers with the goal of accommodating as many veterans as possible. Partnering with HonorAir in Hendersonville, North Carolina, the “Honor Flight Network” was born.
It All Began with the World War II Memorial
The Honor Flight Network program was conceived by Earl Morse, a Physician Assistant and Retired Air Force Captain. Earl wanted to honor the veterans he had taken care of for the past 27 years. After retiring from the Air Force in 1998, Earl was hired by the Department of Veterans Affairs to work in a small clinic in Springfield, Ohio. In May of 2004, the World War II Memorial was finally completed, some 59 years after the end of WWII. After its dedication in Washington, DC, the memorial quickly became the topic of discussion among Earl’s World War II veteran patients.
Earl repeatedly asked these veterans if they would ever travel to visit their memorial. Most felt that eventually, they would visit their memorial with a family member or friend.
As summer turned to fall and then winter, these same veterans returned to the clinic for their follow-up visits. Earl asked if they accomplished their dream of visiting the World War II Memorial. By now, for most of the veterans, he asked, reality had settled in; it was clear to most that it simply was not financially or physically possible for them to make the journey. Most of these senior heroes were in their 80s and lacked the ability to complete a trip on their own. Families and friends also lacked the resources and time to complete the trip to the nation's capital.
The Spark of an Idea
Earl could tell that many of the veterans had given up all hope of ever visiting the memorial that was specifically created to honor their service, as well as the service of their fellow comrades who had paid the ultimate sacrifice. That's when Earl decided that there had to be a way to get these heroes to Washington, D.C. to see their memorial.
In addition to being a Physician Assistant, Earl was also a private pilot and a member of one of our nation's largest aero clubs located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. And things started coming together.
In December of 2004, Earl asked one of his World War II veteran patients if it would be all right if Earl personally flew him to Washington, free of charge, to visit his memorial. The veteran broke down and cried. He told Earl that at his age he would never get to see his memorial otherwise, and graciously accepted the offer. Earl posed the same question to a second World War II veteran a week later. He too, cried and enthusiastically accepted the trip. It did not take long for Earl to realize that there were many veterans who would have the same reaction. So, he started asking for help from other pilots to make these dreams a reality. In January of 2005, Earl addressed about 150 members of the aero club during a safety meeting, outlining a volunteer program to fly veterans to their memorial. There were two major stipulations to his request. The first was that the veterans pay nothing. The entire aircraft rental ($600 to $1200 for the day) would have to be paid solely by the pilots. The second was that the pilots personally escort the veterans around Washington, D.C. for the entire day.
After Earl spoke, eleven pilots stepped up to volunteer. And Honor Flight was born.
The Dream Takes Flight
Soon, other dedicated volunteers joined, a board was formed, funds were raised, and that first flight took to the air in May of 2005. Six small planes flew 12 incredibly happy veterans out to Manassas, Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C. Vans then transported the pilots and veterans to the World War II Memorial. The responses from both the veterans and the pilots were overwhelming. It was an experience that will remain with them for the rest of their lives. Soon other flights were planned and made. So many veterans wanted to participate that commercial aircraft were used to accommodate forty veterans at a time, including many in wheelchairs. By the end of the first year, Honor Flight had transported 137 World War II veterans to their memorial.
In 2006, commercial flights were exclusively used due to the number of veterans on the waiting list and adverse weather conditions which prohibited small aircraft from participating on a regular schedule. Locally, another 300 veterans completed the journey during that year.
HonorAir Follows Honor Flight Mission
Jeff Miller, from Hendersonville, North Carolina, founded HonorAir (now known as Blue Ridge Honor Flight) in 2006 after hearing about Earl Morse’s mission to escort World War II veterans to Washington D.C. to visit their newly dedicated memorial.
Jeff’s father was a World War II Navy veteran. Jeff’s mother was in high school during World War II and her older brother was a pilot who was killed in the war. After Jeff’s father and mother passed away in 2003 and 2006 respectively, he found a treasure of information in his mother’s trunk that would lead him to honoring thousands of veterans.
Jeff was inspired to take every World War II veteran in Henderson County to see their memorial. He knew to accomplish this goal; they would need to raise enough money to charter commercial airplanes. Henderson County’s HonorAir started to grow, funded entirely by private donations, community fundraisers and sponsorships, and Rotary groups.
On September 23rd, 2006, and again on September 24th, the US Airways-chartered jet was filled with World War II veterans and their guardians. Jeff repeated his success on November 4th. In less than three months, HonorAir had flown over 300 World War II veterans to Washington, DC. Jeff quickly shared his expertise with others, who started HonorAir programs in several other areas of the country. By the end of 2006, 891 World War II veterans across America realized their dream of visiting their memorial.
Honor Flight and HonorAir Merge to Create Honor Flight Network
In 2007, Earl Morse and Jeff Miller combined their separate organizations into a nationwide venture and co-founded Honor Flight Network.
Honoring Our Veterans
Today, a network of approximately 130 participating programs in 45 states is in place to assist our senior heroes. Programs have expanded to also honor veterans of the Korean War (the Forgotten War), to ensure these veterans are duly honored and forgotten no more. Honor Flight awaited with anticipation the day they could finally honor and fly Vietnam War veterans. After the negative treatment they received by America when they returned home, Honor Flight revels in giving them the honor, respect and appreciation they so deserve.
Honor Flight is just a small token of appreciation for those that put their lives on the line for our nation and freedoms.
Honor Flight is one last mission, with honor.
(The History of Honor Flight Network was gathered from various Honor Flight hub websites.)